This time of year, I, along with everyone else, try to set new goals. But in the interest of full disclosure, they rarely last more than a few weeks. So maybe it’s because as my four little ones grow, our house seems to get smaller and smaller, but this year I’m determined to declutter and better organize the kids’ things.
Yet every time I move a toy downstairs to the playroom, it always ends up back upstairs in the living room. Every time I throw out a stack of yesterday’s school papers, a new stack appears in today’s backpacks. And every time I start gathering things into a donation pile, I turn my head for a moment and they mysteriously end up back in a child’s room. It often feels like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back. So how can you possibly declutter and get better organized with four kids?
And every time I start gathering things into a donation pile, I turn my head for a moment and they mysteriously end up back in a child’s room. It often feels like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back.
I’ve been reading tips and tricks on the topic and ultimately decided on five tasks that seem realistic and doable to help bring order and tidiness back to my home in the New Year.
Identify which toys, books, and other items are most important and truly used and throw away or, even better, donate the rest. It’s wise to start small, with just one closet at a time for instance. Remove everything, set aside the most important items, and put everything else in a trash or donation box. I’d suggest taking it right out to the car, or else in my case the little ones will begin to circle like vultures and reclaim those toys that they haven’t actually played with for years. Then put back the important stuff, leaving space for stuff to come, and move onto the next area.
With now four kids, their stuff has found its way into every corner of the house. At this very moment there are Legos on our living room bookshelves, dog figurines on our kitchen counter, a yo-yo stashed behind the plant in the hall, and a growing stack of kids’ books in my bin for folded, clean sheets. The key here is to contain the kid clutter and keep it from taking over the entire house. Try to keep kids’ stuff in their rooms and/or playrooms, and if it must spill over into other living space, consider using bins to contain the clutter. Baskets or bins, like Pehr canvas bins, look nice and make cleanup simpler because they’re easy for kids to use.
Categorize and keep similar things organized together. I’ve got a bin in the playroom for stuffed animals, a bin for trains, a bin for balls (I should probably purge some of these), and a bin for farm animals (that’s right, don’t even think of trying to sneak a shark or a lion in there). I have a designated folder for each child’s school papers. And I’ve created bins for each child’s (and adult’s) winter hats, scarves, and gloves, and I’ve also designated a bin for each child to leave personal items in. It’s sort of a personalized drop-off zone, I call it their “bin of important things” (whatever that means!) and as a rule, everything must be placed in their “bin of important things” before going upstairs to bed at night.
Everything needs to have a specific place, so consider labeling each bin with the contents of each so there’s no question about where things belong when it comes time for cleanup. (Also consider pictures on labels for little ones who can’t read.) Labels should be specific, like “trucks” instead of just “toys.” If everything has a designated spot, you have a better chance of avoiding the excuse that a child can’t clean up because they don’t know where the item goes. I had an employee once who introduced me to the “art” of labeling. She labeled everything at the store—she even labeled where the label maker belongs! But my store was all the better for it, believe me. Stock items were appropriately stored, organized, and easy to locate; everyone knew where things belonged, and no one seemed to misplace the box cutters anymore because one was labeled for upstairs use and the other for downstairs use.
Teach kids to clean up their stuff. We try to do this before going upstairs to bed each night. But a 9-year-old can clean up more efficiently than a 4-year-old, so assigning more age-appropriate tasks is wise. Kids are messy, and that’s ok, but just a quick tidy up of things each day will help things from getting out of control (or at least that’s the theory!).
Kids are messy, and that’s ok, but just a quick tidy up of things each day will help things from getting out of control (or at least that’s the theory!).
Plus: My Favorite Clutter-Controlling Products
- Canvas storage bins from Pehr (below) are adorable in kids’ rooms and come in various sizes. Try miniature hanging chalkboard signs for easy-to-change labels.
- Multi-purpose things, like Crate and Barrel’s leather ottomans (below), look great in a living room but double as storage space when the top is lifted.
- Coat hooks and pegs are great for hanging just about everything and getting them off the floor, but consider hanging some at kids’ level so that they can hang their own coats. Otherwise it’s up to you to hang them.
- Shoes have a way of taking of the house, so consider something like Ballard Designs’ Cambridge 4-Shelf Shoe Tower (below) that doubles as a side table.
- There are tons of label makers out there. We used the Brother P-Touch PT-H110 handheld label maker at my store (and at home!). It’s inexpensive, super easy to use, and gets the job done.
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.
Top photo credit: iStock.com/ImageSource